Earlier this week an episode of NBC’s Parenthood focused on Max, who has Asperger’s, and his first time mainstreaming into a general ed classroom. In my opinion, Parenthood continued to do a great job depicting another issue that many parents of children with special needs will probably face during their child’s school age years. The question of whether to mainstream or not is a complex one and one that I believe truly needs to be dealt with on a child by child basis. Mainstreaming can undoubtedly be beneficial for the development of a child but it also needs to be approached cautiously.
There are many philosophies on mainstreaming varying from full inclusion of children with special needs into the general education environment to virtually no mainstreaming with children with special needs being isolated to their own classrooms or campuses. In my caseload of preschoolers, I have children who run the whole spectrum of mainstreaming options and it seems to work fairly well. Our most impacted preschoolers with autism are in classrooms specifically for children with autism that are set up in a reverse mainstreaming system. Reverse mainstreaming means that while the classroom is set up for the students with autism, peers without special needs also attend the class with the goal of them providing good models of language, behavior, etc. We also have preschoolers that attend special day classes that consist of students with a variety of special needs. These students mainstream daily on the playground and for varying amounts of time in the general education preschool classrooms based on their needs. We also have student’s with autism who are fully included in the general education preschool classrooms with some extra supports like behavior specialists and speech therapists supporting them. I may be biased (I am) but I think we do a fairly good job of matching a student’s needs and learning styles with the amount of mainstreaming they receive. Of course we are not perfect but we are always trying to provide more and more mainstreaming for our students under the restraints of what we can do in a public school system in this day and age with budget cuts restricting some flexibility.
The aspect of Max’s mainstreaming experience that struck me the most was the lack of support for both Max and his teacher. A child with special needs should never be dropped in a classroom without loads of support that can be backed off when the time is right. Modifications and accommodations can be made to help a child navigate the classroom and his school work successfully. While I am generally not a fan of providing a “shadow” or “one on one” aide to a student, providing some classroom support in the form of an extra adult in the room trained to work with the student can be very helpful to both the student and teacher. I also feel that one of the aspects that is most lacking is training for general education teachers on strategies for working with student’s with autism. Even some basic training on behavioral strategies can go a long way with helping a general education teacher provide the best learning environment for a child who is mainstreaming in her classroom.
I look forward to future episodes of Parenthood to see how Max’s first year of mainstreaming progresses! Just like with my students I hope that the right mainstreaming setup for Max will be found and that he will have the best school year possible!